College Students are Rebuilding their Schools in Minecraft

Andrew Guo, a junior, thought of an alternative to Zoom hosting the college commencement. Students could have a “Hey Day”, and graduate in Minecraft, just like a Japanese elementary school.

Soon, “Penncraft’ students were able to create in-game dormitories, food trucks, or local sculptures. Makarios Chung was an early builder who measured the dimensions of buildings and the positions of streets to ensure that they were as accurate as possible. Students spent an hour deciding the location of one street on their first day of building. Their goal was to complete the campus, specifically Locust Street. This would allow graduating seniors to walk down in game now that COVID-19 has stopped them from returning to campus to continue this UPenn tradition.

Senior Nyazia Sajdah Bey states, “I’m first in my family to graduate college so it wasn’t just for me, it was also for my entire family,” She abruptly left campus and is now rebuilding it in Minecraft, just days after her departure. She says, “I didn’t have the opportunity to properly grieve or, finish my senior bucket list and say goodbye to my teachers and friends.” “I still have to grieve that loss. It’s so sweet to work on campus. It makes the process of leaving feel more gradual and less abrupt.” Guo, Chung and Sajdah–Bey are just a few of hundreds of college students who are on similar paths to rebuilding their lives and leaving behind the past.

Students from UCLA to Boston University, South Louisiana Community College and Northwestern University have created or resurrected Minecraft server and shared their creations in Discord chats and in Facebook meme groups and Reddit threads. The explosion of college Minecraft servers is now underway. These servers are designed to bring students together and build, often focusing on recreating college campuses. In the last few weeks, searches for Minecraft server hosting have reached unprecedented levels. Thousands of students are discussing college servers on Facebook, most notably on the group “Zoom Memes For Self Quaranteens.” Other clubs and groups, such as Bowdoin College’s men’s ultimate frisbee team and University of La Verne’s debate team have found ways to bond through survival mode servers. Zoom isn’t enough and doesn’t have the ten-year-old memories that Gen Z has about Minecraft.

Many colleges have moved to online learning. This was a shock to seniors who had expected to spend more time on campus. I was devastated when my Oberlin College dorm had to be packed and I had to drive home over a weekend. I started self-quarantine and created an Oberlin server for Minecraft. This game has been a part of my life for over a decade. It has helped me to form many relationships with people I have never met in real live. Although our server is small, I am able to spend time with my partner building a home and exploring with seniors I have never left behind. Many students have found Minecraft to be a relief. College servers have become a place where students can log into to grieve the loss of their on-campus community, or rebuild it.

“I don’t think I’ll ever see campus alive again.” Jay Gibbs, a University of Chicago senior, said that he can visit the buildings, the space, and the plot but he won’t be able to see campus the way he remembers it. “So it’s basically gone from my perspective.” While Minecraft allows for the creation of 1:1 scale replicas campus buildings, it also allows students to fill campus spaces with their own interactions. Penncraft began working with the staff of the Penn Relays, the oldest track and fields competition in America, to host a virtual speedrunning version of the Relays in Minecraft. It will be easier for each college to host events once they have an in-game campus. Brown and Columbia are currently discussing intramural Minecraft Hunger Games.

Students have found ways to connect in college servers even without formal organization. I created an Oberlin College server and returned to it one day to find an impromptu food co-op. This is a throwback the the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, which feeds a quarter of the student population with meals prepared by their peers. The Minecraft version consisted mainly of a chest containing inedible seeds, raw chicken, and other non-food items. Two students played spikeball on the University of Minnesota server. They each tossed a sunflower to one another. Students held an in-game birthday party on the University of Texas server. They set off fireworks and ate cake at the top of UT Tower.

In-game graduations will be possible in May. Rudy Raveendran, a Boston University senior, and Warren Partridge, a former student at Boston University, created “Quaranteen University” to host the Class of 2020 graduation. This server is specifically designed to accommodate students from hundreds of universities. In the last week, 706 students from 278 universities signed up. One mom has already emailed Raveendran to ask how she can get an ingame seat to the massive ceremony on May 22nd.

Others have been inspired by the boom in server technology to organize themselves around them. Jasper Ty, a Drexel University freshman, recently uploaded a Zoom presentation that ranks the top five college campus build. He says, “I have been called a college Minecraft server connoisseur.” He is inspired by friends to start a series of guided tours through Minecraft campuses.

Nearly all builders claim that they will leave their projects with an appreciation for campus architecture, particularly the places they have never visited. Jan Rubio, a UT freshman says, “It makes it seem like I took this for granted.” Jasper Ty adds, “Especially knowing that people had toiled for these views and these building.”

It is true that many people have worked hard, especially in the BU building. Will Pine, a junior at BU, walked through the deserted campus to take reference photos. He also made special note of emergency evacuation maps that were placed on each floor. These maps double as well-measured blueprints. Students also shared floor plan PDFs on other build Discords. These were used to fill in their blindspots and provide reference photos or memories. Sometimes builders can get distracted by the smallest details. Domino the Cat and a pair of Girl Scouts selling cookies at a crosswalk at the University of Minnesota are just two examples of this. University of Washington builders created a Discord channel called “Building Standards” to discuss road widths, wood options, and concrete blocks for brutalist constructions.

I won’t be walking through Oberlin College’s Wilder Bowl or Terrell Library any time soon and my memory will undoubtedly erase details of spaces I spent many years in. As it has been for others, a campus build server could be a mind-blower for me. Makarios Chung recalls a frozen courtyard puddle he slid through one day. Many students are looking for familiarity in a moment of tragic and new memories. This courtyard is now built in the server.

It is possible to measure the server boom. Shockbyte’s managing director Mitch Smith has seen Minecraft server demand rise five times more than usual since March 12, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. Smith stated in an email that Shockbyte for Education has started hosting servers for “scout group, kindergartens, homeschooling parents and daycares.” But 2020’s graduating class has a unique relationship with the game. From middle school through high school, we grew up playing Minecraft updates. The game became more complicated as we grew older. The majority of the students interviewed purchased Minecraft in early alpha development. Returning to Minecraft now, in their childhood bedrooms is like going back to an old toy with no endgame.

Jay Gibbs says that if I had an indefinite amount of time that could end at any moment, I would want something I can just play and stop playing whenever it suits me.” Jay Gibbs is talking about why students flock to Minecraft during indefinite self-isolation. The Quaranteen U statues and spires might still be standing years from now. Students might be playing capture-the-flag in the Frankensteined mix below. These servers aren’t collegiate graveyards, they are small wonders that are currently being built.

The Berklee School of Music campus is built on a strange lie. Some blocks that players see are actually made of sand. Minecraft allows players to build a few half-block blocks, but Marc Yu, Berklee E-Sports Club president, wanted his campus to have slabs made of terracotta and glass. Berklee builders created numerous “falling sand” entities that they could re-skin to build materials. The Berklee build is technically a series of sandcastles, which are slowly falling apart, but can be reconstructed almost imperceptibly fast thanks to the creativity of students. Yu and other builders have created an anti-Ozymandias. Their sandcastles can live on as long the server moves forward.

I have found Minecraft to be more reliable than Oberlin College many times. I hope that this won’t be the case at graduation. I would like to return to the campus and town that has meant so much for me, and hold commencement in person when the world becomes safer. To receive my Oberlin diploma, I may walk across Quaranteen U’s blocky stage this May. My avatar will be standing alongside seniors from nursing school, business school, and my hometown college as well as Canadian universities and Turkish universities. I will be proud to walk across the stage with the Class 2020, in whatever ragtag and bizarre form that may take.

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